Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Garden Advertising Sometimes Exaggerates

Advertising in America as an industry began with the N. W. Ayer & Son Company in Philadelphia in 1867.

From that point on advertisers through the media of the day sought to persuade a consumer to buy a particular brand of a product.

Lydia Pinkham was among the first to use such advertising to market her patent medicine, a remedy for female complaints. She combined vegetable compound laced with nineteen per cent alcohol to make up her medicinal beverage.

The garden industry of course through the seed companies and nurseries did not shy away from ads to promote their wares as well.

You would think that today, one hundred fifty years later, we are smart enough to reject false claims in advertising.

Not true.

Sometimes, even today, garden advertising exaggerates what the company promises.

A ‘garden in a box’ seems to imply you simply plant something like the company’s seed strips and wallah, you have a garden.

Mike Lizotte from American Meadows said, “We’ve all seen the ‘meadow in a can’ seed products at our

Wildflower mix from Aerican Meadows

Wildflower mix from American Meadows

favorite big box store. Don’t be fooled by the nice packaging.”

There is always something left out in advertising in order that the ad can make its point.

In the ‘garden in a box’ that something happens to be the work it takes to maintain a garden, and see it through to its flowering.

Also, the product may be inferior. There may be fewer seeds than promised.

Garden advertising is really like any advertising. The buyer has to be aware of the kind of promises made by the seller.

Adrian Higgins, garden writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote an article entitled “Growing wild – by design.”

He said, “A few years ago, there was the notion that meadows were so eager to sprout that

American Meadows

American Meadows

you could buy a can full of wildflower seed, sprinkle the contents on a piece of cleared land and you would have a floriferous meadow in perpetuity. But there is no meadow genie in the can.”

Though we need to proceed cautiously with ads, advertising for the garden at the same time it tries to sell something also informs the consumer about new products.

Nineteenth century New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) recognized that part of advertising.

Vick wrote in 1880 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly “Those desiring reliable information upon horticultural subjects will find much that is valuable in these [advertising] pages.”


Victorian Seedsman Encouraged Advertising

Victorian seedsman encouraged advertising.

New York seedsman Peter Henderson (1822-1890) wrote several popular garden books in the late nineteenth century.

He also believed in the power of advertising for his company.

In 1884 Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan included in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly a speech that Henderson had given that year at the Chicago Convention of Nurserymen.  He quotes Henderson as saying, “Advertising is rapidly becoming a fine art, and the more it advances as a fine art, the more advertising will be done and the more profit will result from it.”

As a business, the seed industry had its share of competition.  The amount of advertising sometimes distinguished one company from another.

Henderson catalog 1885

For example, this chromolithograph cover [above] from Henderson’s seed catalog of 1885 promoted the company as modern and progressive, but still classic. The company promised to fill every need a gardener may have.

Meehan wrote the following in another issue of his magazine from that same year, “Perhaps in no other country is the press so liberally patronized by seedsmen, florists, and nurserymen as in the United States. In their advertising seasons, which cover most of the months of the year, we can rarely pick up a periodical that does not contain some of their advertisements.”

Henderson was not alone among his Brothers of the Spade, fellow garden merchants.  He believed in advertising for any modern business to succeed, including the garden industry.


Advertising Builds Loyalty

Coca-Cola, born in Atlanta at the end of the nineteenth century, owes a great deal of its success as a soda to the power of advertising.

In 1985 the company, then called Coke, changed the soda’s formula for the first time in 50 years.

The current newsletter from the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at Duke University said, “Consumers boycotted the new product and called Coke’s hotline to complain.”

Coke listened. The company reintroduced the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic, just 75 days after the launch of the New Coke.

Advertising builds loyalty.

A parallel case took place in the nineteenth century American seed business.

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) enjoyed a following of loyal customers across the country.

To them, he was their “Mr. Vick” who provided garden advice and, of course, seeds. For them he became the voice of the Vick Seed Company.

He sought to instill in his customers a love of flowers or, as he wrote, “a love of floriculture.”

Vick chromo of 1873

Vick chromolithograph  sold in his seed catalog of 1873

He persevered with that goal throughout the years of his leadership of the company.

In his seed catalog Vick wrote in the section called “Flora Decorations” the following words, “For many years we have endeavored to teach the people to love flowers, and how to gratify this new-born love.”

He wanted his readers to enjoy flowers but also to decorate both home and garden with flowers. He said, “Believing we could do no better service to our readers than to show them how to make home tasteful and pleasant.”

Through his consistent message about flowers customers remained faithful to Vick and his company. Even his chromolithographs that he offered for sale illustrated that theme. [above]

He advertised widely in newspapers and magazines around the country.

Advertising for Vick also came in the form of the regular seed catalog as well as his garden magazine, Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Advertising builds loyalty.